When to Take a Mommy Time Out

How to do you know when it’s time to take a mommy time out? Here are some not-so-subtle signals that warn, “System Overload!”


Slam! went the door.

Click, sounded the small lock.

Woosh … came the covers over my head.

Yep, I’d locked myself in my bedroom.

It was Day #2 of my husband Ted’s out-of-town company retreat. Day #2 of just me and four little girls. Four very talkative little girls.

Did I mention that they were four little girls who all took turns singing “Tomorrow” from Annie over and over again? And when I say “over and over again,” I mean hours straight. Well, except when my small divas took a brief respite from it in order to belt out an Annie-esque rendition of an overly theatrical, “Dumb Dog.”

With all the noise and pressure of having no tag team member to “tag” after a long day, I snapped.

Here I was, the 34-year-old mother of four, hiding under the blankets on my bed. I just needed a few minutes of silence. Time to collect my thoughts minus the words, “The sun will come up tomorrow!”

You could say I was giving myself a “mommy time out.”

How a Mommy Time Out Stops Yelling Before It Starts

While I’d love to suggest this was an isolated incident, it wasn’t. This was one of three “personal retreats” that happened while Ted was gone.

At first I felt guilty that I was the kind of mom who had to lock myself in my room. Especially because we did have a designated “quiet time” each day. Hadn’t I gotten enough solitude during that afternoon hour or two? Considering that it ended up consumed by, “She won’t play Legos with me!” and “She called me, ‘Poopy!’” I’d guess no.

Later though, I realized perhaps I should have scheduled these 5-minute hiatuses into our daily routine earlier. You see, I didn’t set myself aside soon enough.

I’m ashamed to say, I’d already yelled at my children. I’d seen their faces – no words necessary – say, “Uh-huh, Mommy’s upset.” I could feel their eyes watch with worry as I hastily ran for the refuge of my room. In my head, this girl was screaming, “Tomorrow never dies! Tomorrow never dies!”

Turns out I’m not the only mom who’s struggled with being a yeller. In the last few months, I’ve read blog posts from Rachel Macy Stafford, Ann Voskamp, and Lisa Jacobson on the topic.

The good news is, I’m learning the value of resetting.

I’m finding it’s not only okay to tell my kids, “Mommy, needs a few minutes alone” before isolating myself, it’s extremely helpful. Those 5 to 10 minutes allow me to calm my emotions, pour out my heart to the Lord, and in return gain a better perspective on the responsibilities of life that often leave me identifying with The Incredibles mom, Elastigirl.

How to Identify It’s Time for a Mommy Time Out

So how do I work these “time outs” in before I snap?

I’ve learned to heed the not-so-subtle signals my body sends to alert me. You know, those flashing red lights that warn, “System Overload!” They include:

An inability to multi-task. As a master of juggling many balls at once, when I feel like I can’t keep anything in the air, I know it’s time to step away. My kids will survive if the pink milk refills and search for the missing blankie are delayed until I’ve had a chance to breathe deeply.

My inner snapping turtle awakes. When the urge to snap at my kids starts to build, it’s a clear indication that I should remove myself from the situation for a bit. I obviously need time to reset.

I run for chocolate or my cell phone. When I feel overwhelmed, I tend to seek out Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups or race to call Ted. I’m discovering both the scale and Ted appreciate if I instead set myself aside, read Scripture, and refocus.

When Taking a Mommy Time Out is Tricky

Life doesn’t always provide the opportunity for me to seclude myself in my room, though. The need to reset sometimes comes at the worst possible moments.

Take, for example, those times when I needed to be out the door, in my well-loved mini-van, and headed to the pediatrician’s office 10 minutes ago. While I may not be able to separate myself from my kids and the pulls of life, I can still take a few moments in the driver’s seat to set myself aside and calm my frenzied emotions. These are the instances when an episode or three of Adventures in Odyssey becomes my new best friend.

I’ve been told it takes 30 days to establish a new habit. Well, it’s been over that since Ted’s company retreat. And my girls, they have yet to tire of Annie. But, as I’ve learned to embrace daily “time outs,” I’m finding myself better able to “stick out my chin and grin!”

When to Take a Mommy Time Out

This post first appeared at iBelieve.com on July 10, 2013. You can read it here.